Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 32

THE KENTUCKY RIVER GIANT

7'11"

Martin Van Buren Bates Claimed

The native of Kona, Kentucky, near Whitesburg in Letcher County, became an international
circus star, especially after his marriage in 1871 to a woman even taller than he was.
By STEVE GILLY AND ROD MULLINS

T

he mysteries and marvels of the
life of Martin Van Buren Bates
begin with his birth. What's not
contested is that he was born on
November 9 at Kona, in Letcher
County, Kentucky, to John Wallis Bates and his wife, Sarah.
But was it November 9, 1837 or November 9, 1845?
More on the eight-year disparity in a
moment, but first to what would make
Bates an international circus and socialcircle sensation as part of a couple who by
the 1870s toured the world as "The Largest
Married Couple in the World."
How large? Their publicity touted their
total height at just under 16 feet with a
total weight at about 900 pounds.

This photo of Martin
and Anna Bates is
dated June 17, 1871,
the day they were
married.

ABOUT THIS STORY

T

his history of the life of Martin Van Buren Bates
is adapted with permission from the podcast
Stories, A History of Appalachia, produced by
Steve Gilly and Rod Mullins. It is just one of scores
of fascinating stories from the southern Appalachians-all told in relaxed, conversational style by
Steve and Rod. The Stories podcast is available
at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify,
Deezer, iHeartRadio and elsewhere.

LIBRARY ARCHIVES CANADA

32

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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020

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